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Your Child and Anxiety: School Stress Starts Early

Student Stress Starts Early. The Problem: Premature Pressure by Parents, Peers

Preventing School Stress: The Bottom Line

Here's everything you need to know about keeping healthy stress from becoming distress:

    • Spend time with your children.
    • Give your kids a stable home environment. Negotiate home rules -- including consequences for rule breaking -- and stick to these rules.
    • Monitor their eating habits.
    • Don't just talk to your kids. Communicate with them. When children misbehave -- and they will -- try to understand their behavior instead of merely punishing it.

"Listen to your young person," Hall says. "Acknowledge and accept his or her needs. Know that school is a long-term process. One immediate success or failure is not going to determine a child's life. Growth will happen. We parents can and must learn to accept that growth -- and the fact that it is going to be unpredictable. What we can do is show constant love and support and presence. That is the most important message: that we are there, and that we love them and support them."

Part of this support is setting up a daily routine.

"Routines are good. They help alleviate stress," DeBord says. "Establishing a regular bedtime, get-up time, and bath time is important at any age. It also helps kids learn to develop routines themselves. Family meetings are important. At the beginning of school, set a weekly time to regroup and to talk about what's going on and how it will work: who gets the shower first, what time to set the alarm clocks for. Give everybody a chance to talk."

Communication also means helping kids learn from their mistakes.

Bryant advises letting kids know that you will help them solve the problems that can lead to misbehaving. "When kids come to expect only punishment, they are not going to tell you what they're doing. There is a balance between setting limits, being open to communicating, and punishment. Limits are different than punishment. I am all for setting limits, but punishment is too often used because parents don't recognize the stress that kids are under. They don't want to [misbehave], but they [don't yet know] how to maintain friendships and relationships with parents despite the [peer] pressure," she says.

Stress means different things at different ages. Here's a rundown on how stress affects children in elementary, middle, and high school.

Elementary School

Elementary-school kids haven't fully learned self-control. They are still honing their social skills. They're learning how to make friends, how to handle aggression, how to control their urges and emotions. If their teachers and parents don't treat these as normal developmental milestones, they can turn into sources of stress.

"Kids starting school are ready to learn -- that's why we start school at this age," DeBord says. "They should be eager and ready to learn, so building on that desire to learn is key. The enjoyment of learning comes naturally to them. Helping them build on that foundation will take them far when they start learning reading and other skills."

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